Given the random nature of agility obstacle specifications, some dogs are going to have a harder time than others when it comes to meeting the criteria to avoid point faults while also performing an obstacle safely. One example of a random obstacle specification is the fact that most A-Frames ramps 9′ long, which for anyone who has ever built anything knows is not a practical size since standard plywood is 8′ long. But that is a minor inconvenience compared to the difficulty many people face when training their dogs to perform the A-Frame safely and consistently.
Many things come into play but a dog’s size, body type, and stride length can be significant factors RE: A-Frame performances. In the photos below, you can see that Lil is reaching forward as much as possible with her front legs, yet her front feet do not extend as far forward as the Border Collie’s feet. I liken this to running down a very steep hill with too short walking sticks–and the faster Lil runs, the harder it is for her to maintain control in her descent due to the powerful forces of gravity and momentum.
In addition to the Australian Terrier’s structure (longer back, shorter legs), size also comes into play. Lil is a bit too small to be able to safely float over the top of an A-frame and then take just one more stride on the descent so she has to take an extra stride but here is the catch– the more strides a dog has to take on the descent of the A-Frame, the more gravity and momentum will cause them to become unbalanced. I’ve seen a few fast small dogs almost do back flips on the descent due to their rears coming up too high.
Another influencing factor is how upright or slinky a dog’s natural posture is when running. My other Australian Terrier, Jake holds his head higher and runs more upright than Lil, so he has to work even harder to hold himself back against the forces of gravity and momentum than Lil.
Below is a post I wrote about A-frames and long-backed dogs, in which I explain in more detail why I think it can difficult for them to run fast and hit low, especially on the highest (5’6″) A-frames. One thing I did not mention in that post is that I think the rather extreme body proportions of Corgis may actually help them counter the effects of gravity and momentum by having such extremely low centers of gravity themselves. As a result they do not appear to become as off balanced as moderately longed-back Australian Terriers do when descending an A-Frame. https://artanddogblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/14/running-a-frames-and-the-long-backed-dog/
NOW ONTO THE INSPIRATION FOR TODAY’S POST: Dawn Weaver posted an intriguing question in an on-line group discussion about jumping issues. Her question was related to what agility courses would look like if they were based on canine vision vs. human vision. Apparently this got me thinking about agility specifications in a much broader sense, so when I stumbled upon this video from 2010 of a method I experimented with in hopes of training my dogs to perform the A-frame as safely as possible, I was inspired to write a post about it.
In a perfect world, I would have an A-frame with a bendable contact zone that I could use for early training, beginning with the contact zone bent at a significant angle and then gradually changing the angle until it was the same as the rest of the A-Frame. Then once my dogs were trained, I could slightly bend the contact zone when practicing handling, similar to the way many people train with slightly open channel weaves when practicing weave poles to reduce the wear and tear on their dogs. How cool would that be? Below is a concept drawing of a bendable A-Frame.
My initial inspiration for this idea was to devise a way to make the bottom of the A-Frame more enticing to my dogs. My thinking was if my dogs had the option of striding over a contact zone that had less angle than the A-frame, that they would aim for it in the same way many dogs appear aim for the less angled/ flat ground just beyond the A-Frame.
As you can see in the video above, the angled ramps worked well. Both dogs appeared to be aiming for the less angled ramp (Jake more than Lil), not due to training, but rather because the ramp eased the transition between A-frame and the ground.
One thing I did not like about the experiment was the issue of the ramp adding length to the A-Frame. I did not want my dogs to develop a specific striding pattern based on the overall longer length of the ramp and A-frame so I solved that issue at 0:28 by adding an 8′ long “runway” beyond the A-frame so the ramp and A-frame measured 9′ in total vs. the ramp adding additional length to the A-Frame.
Back to my perfect world: A bendable A-Frame, like seen in my concept drawings would solve that issue without having to add a “runway” like I did in the video. Not that I actually NEED a bendable A-Frame for training, since both of my dogs are running over A-Frames in reasonably safe and consistent fashions at this point.
How is this for a totally crazy thought… What if all A-Frames had contact zones that had a more moderate angle than the upper part? It would reduce the impact of the first stride onto the A-frame and ease the transition back to flat ground. Plus another benefit is that it would be much easier for judges to see if dogs hit the contact zone or not so they would not need to storm towards the A-Frame while the dog is running over it which freaks out some dogs and makes them leap!